Lips of Pride: A Collective Exhibit
April 8 – 18, 2016
HAYP Pop Up Gallery
Lips of Pride is a collective exhibition that invites women artists to examine notions of female sexuality, femininity, and identity within the context of societal perceptions of shame in Armenia. Some of the artists define themselves as feminist, others do not. While feminist demands are many, addressing questions of political, social, economic and cultural importance, we believe that sexual freedom- that is the right to full ownership, control, and respect of one’s body and the rejection of the idea that anyone can make you feel ashamed about who you are and who you love- is vital and inextricably linked to the other demands.
Some feminist art historians like Geeta Kapur argue that sexuality is a theme emphasized by western feminism, and that other issues like poverty, immigration, and refugee status are more pressing in other parts of the world (D’Souza, 67). While Kapur brings up an important point about the relationship between feminist politics and geography, she undermines the interrelation of these issues.
When exploring gender representations in post-soviet Eastern Europe, Serbian curator Bojana Pejic points out that controlling women’s sexual freedom was a tool used by post-soviet governments to convey a sense of stability. In the face of political insecurity, post-soviet democracies focused on banning abortion- despite other more pressing political concerns- in order to affirm a position of power (Pejic, 26). One of the most progressive moments in art history occurred during the first two decades of the soviet union from 1912-1934, when women artists were recognized and valued at the same level as their male peers. Artists Natalia Goncharova, Olga Rozanovva, Lyubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova lead the creative force of the Russian avant-garde until the Bolshevik sexophobia of the 30’s ended communist egalitarian ideology (Bayadyan, 5). So we see that a woman’s sexual and reproductive freedom is strictly linked to her political and economic freedom. We cannot establish a hierarchy of social rights, but rather must confront these issues as a whole.
With a participation of over twenty-five artists, principally from Armenia, but also from the USA and Germany, this exhibition represents HAYP Pop Up Gallery’s highest artist participation to-date. It is also interesting to highlight the symbolism of our gallery’s location within a house; a commentary on the private versus public space, and women’s place in society. The selected artworks cover various mediums including painting, sculpture, photography, video and installation. Many of the artists comment on the internalization of the male gaze, and conflicting notions of womanhood, identity, and maternity. Other themes include the self-destructive character of shame and the hope for eventual liberation and catharsis. The artists question how to reconcile tradition and modernity, the individual and society, and ultimately how to flourish in the face of marginalization.
The exhibition title, “Lips of Pride”, stems from a colloquial Armenian term for labia, ամոթաշուրթեր (amotashurter), or, “lips of shame” that embodies a disturbed vision of female sexuality, which the exhibition aims to confront. The power of words, like images, lies in the subtle ways in which they penetrate our psyche. Art Historian Griselda Pollock notes that the discrimination against women artists stems from our language. We have come to engender certain personality traits, associating intellect to men and emotions to women (Pollock, 37). Similarly, Art Historian Hrach Bayadyan explains that 19th century cultural production in Armenia used gender to convey contrast and hierarchy. Bayadyan analyzes the metaphoric landscape paintings of Martiros Saryan and the poetry of Hovannes Hovanessian (1880) and Hovannes Toumanian (1910). In their works, man is equated to collective identity (subject), and woman to nature (object) (Bayadyan, 6).
Major museums and cultural centers around the world are starting to question these antiquated narratives and their institutional approach to collecting and exhibiting art in order to represent a more comprehensive voice of modernity. We are seeing this change over the past twenty years with major women-focused exhibitions like “Fragmentation and the Body” (1996, ICA, Boston), “Gender Check” (2009-2010, MuMoK, Vienna), Elles@CentrePompidou (2009, Centre Pompidou, Paris), and “Modern Women” (2010, MoMA, New York), as well as locally with projects like “Simply and Against” (1994), “Mono Polis” (1997), Creative Syntheses (2005, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yerevan), “Women’s Dialogue- International Festival” (2005, ACCEA, Yerevan), and “Body-New Figurative Art in Armenia” (2010, Academia Gallery, Yerevan).
In Griselda Pollock’s words, we “are not introducing gender in the discussion, it has already been in the discussion, it has simply been disguised as ‘neutral’” (Pollock, 39).
Anna K. Gargarian
Curator, HAYP Pop Up Gallery
Pollock, Griselda. “THE MISSING FUTURE: MoMA AND MODERN WOMEN.” Modern Women. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2010. 29-54. Print.
D’Souza, Aruna. ““FLOAT THE BOAT!”: FINDING A PLACE FOR FEMINISM IN THE MUSEUM.” Modern Women. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2010. 57-68. Print.
Pejic, Bojana. “PROLETARIANS OF ALL COUNTRIES, WHO WASHES YOUR SOCKS? EQUALITY, DOMINANCE AND DIFFERENCE IN EASTERN EUROPEAN ART.” Gender Check: Femininity and Masculinity in the Art of Eastern Europe. Cologne: Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, 2009. 19-27. Print.
Bayadyan, Hrach. “The Naked Body and the National Landscape.” BODY: New Figurative Art in Armenia. Trans. Artashes Emin. Yerevan: Ministry of Culture of Armenia, 2010. 3-6. Print.